Pain and Inflammation

Inflammation is the natural response to damage.  When tissue is damaged, like when you’re breaking down muscle in a workout, you’ll get the “cardinal signs of inflammation” or S.H.A.R.P. (swelling, heat, altered function, redness and pain).  This is totally natural.  In fact, the body must undergo inflammatory processes in order to repair and get stronger.

Scenario A: Let’s say we do some exercises like dumbbell rows, ring rows etc. that break down some of your back muscles.  You’ll get an immediate inflammatory response after the workout, in those muscles, which might include pain.  Will icing the lats+rhomboids reduce inflammation?  Yes, it will, but we actually want inflammation at this point, for repair purposes.  Scenario B: It’s 2 or 3 days after our workout, and your back muscles are still sore.  The muscles have not fully healed.  The inflammatory and repair processes have not been adequate (or still need more time due to a large amount of tissue insult), due to any number of factors (age, nutrition, sleep, overtraining etc.).  Heat is what you would want in this situation, to actually promote blood flow to the muscles, thereby promoting healing + accelerating inflammation.  Cold/ice will actually suppress blood flow, and thereby slow the healing process.

So, when should ice/cold be used?  A. For acute pain, when you want relief from pain that comes along with inflammation.  B.  There is something referred to as “flushing” in which one will apply cold for a short duration, following by heat for a short duration, for multiple cycles – the theory being that it causes a net increase or “flushing” of blood within the area.  Otherwise, cold on it’s OWN, will simply reduce inflammation and blood flow.